Thankfully, there is a lot more awareness these days of the importance of treating a hearing loss, but some aspects of the risks of a hearing loss are still not talked about much. We’re here to answer some of those relevant questions.
1. Can Hearing Loss Cause Dementia?
Hearing loss in itself does not cause dementia. However, it does put people at a much greater risk for what we call cognitive decline, which is one of the leading factors of dementia.
Your brain is one big giant muscle, just like everything else in your body. If the visual and auditory centers of your brain are aging and not being utilized or pushed to their largest capacity with the help of glasses or hearing aids, they’re not going to work as hard.
Without enough use, these centers may atrophy or shrink over time. They are not going to work quite as well.
And if untreated, they will not recover after a certain period of time. For example, I might do a workout now, at age 48, and I’m sore for days, whereas at age 20, it wouldn’t have bothered me.
As we age, our muscles don’t recover as quickly – they don’t bounce back. Similarly, when we’re older, our brains don’t bounce back quickly from cognitive decline, which happens as atrophy in the brain occurs.
Lack of hearing treatment is putting people at a greater risk for dementia or Alzheimer’s as brain shrinkage occurs. Reports have shown that even people with a mild degree of long-term, untreated hearing loss are at a three times greater risk of cognitive decline for every 10 dB of loss over that.
By the time they come to see me in their seventies or eighties, most people are at a moderate to severe hearing loss, which is worrisome. So it is very important to get tested right away.
We talk about starting regular hearing checks at age 50 because we don’t want people to be at that risk level. We want to be preemptive by warding off any decline at all.
So no, hearing loss does not directly cause dementia and Alzheimer’s. However, not treating it puts you at risk, and you can lessen those risks by treating things like hearing loss, vision loss, etc., when the first signs of them show up to make yourself a little bit better off in the odds factor.
2. Does Hearing Loss Cause Vertigo?
Hearing loss does not cause vertigo, but hearing loss and vertigo are symptoms that sometimes go hand in hand for many diseases.
Some balance issues caused by a medical issue might also cause the hearing loss, such as blood pressure or cardiovascular issues. Sometimes it’s a matter of age-related issues, and hearing loss can also be one of them.
For example, if you have something called Meniere’s disease, two of the symptoms are hearing loss and episodic vertigo that lasts for hours to days. Another example is hearing loss that comes on suddenly with vertigo if you have labyrinthitis.
Or you’ve got something called BPPV – calcium crystals have broken loose in the ear causing episodic vertigo that is lasting a few seconds every time you move or roll over in bed.
So hearing loss and vertigo can be related, but they usually aren’t.
Nonetheless, if you’re experiencing symptoms of vertigo and you feel like you have a hearing loss, it’s very important to get checked as soon as possible to make sure nothing more serious is going on. Call us or your doctor right away.
3. Can Hearing Loss Cause Dizziness?
As discussed above, hearing loss cannot cause dizziness, but sometimes you will experience both, and you should see a doctor if this happens to rule out any medical issues that might be causing it.
4. Is Hearing Loss Hereditary?
Yes, hearing loss is often hereditary and is caused by diseases such as otosclerosis or nerve loss. Oftentimes though, it’s just that families are putting themselves in the same work situations or have the same hobbies that are loud enough to damage your hearing, putting you at risk for hearing loss.
There is a strong correlation that if you have a family history of hearing loss, your own hearing is more likely to decline with time.
If you have a strong history of hearing loss, it’s important to get tested and monitored for it, as with any other health risks. Even if you are not experiencing any hearing loss right now, a baseline test lets you know how good your hearing is today, and then it can be monitored along the way.
Monitoring your hearing means you can address any changes sooner rather than later and avoid any long-term damage, such as cognitive decline.
5. Can Hearing Loss Cause Headaches?
A hearing loss can’t cause headaches, but the strain to hear can.
When you strain to hear, you put stress and strain on your body and your brain. We all strain to hear someone talking when we are in an environment that is very noisy. It can be exhausting and cause a headache and tiredness, and this can happen daily if you always struggle to hear well.
However, if you get a migraine quite often, it should be looked at just to make sure there’s nothing more going on.
I have patients who feel like they have more energy now that they have their hearing aids, and it’s because they’re not working so hard to hear. Their body doesn’t have to focus on that so much.
6. Can Hearing Loss Affect Your Balance?
Hearing loss and balance can be symptoms that coexist but are unrelated, as mentioned in question 2.
I have had patients who feel out of sorts because they’re not hearing well, but once they’re hearing better, they feel more secure in their surroundings and feel better. So feeling off-balance can be a perceptual thing.
But if someone’s experiencing imbalance and hearing loss, it is important to be seen by their physician or their audiologist, just to be on the safe side, to make sure nothing more is going on that’s causing it.
Your Next Steps
Your first step to treating any hearing and balance issues is to set up a hearing test with us at one of our three locations. Your immediate results will help us discover what’s causing it and we can suggest different treatment options.
For a comprehensive hearing assessment, fill out the online booking form or call Fall River Hearing Center, (508) 674-3334, Hyannis Hearing Center, (508) 862-0255, Dartmouth Hearing Center, 508-910-2221.
As some of Massachusetts’ most trusted hearing care experts, we’re here to help you with your balance and hearing issues. We look forward to hearing from you.